I’ve lately been pondering the question of why spirits work with us, prompted in part by reading a book where the author claims that angels have no choice but to do what we ask them to do. I don’t agree with that perspective and my experiences with Angels, and for that matter other spirits, doesn’t fall in line this approach. It also seems pretty thankless for any spirit to work us because they have to. But I recognize as well that I’m making a human assumption about the motivation of beings that is likely not accurate.
Lately I’ve had a few other magicians express doubts about their magical work and when they tell me they feel doubt they feel as if expressing that doubt is somehow bad and makes them less of a magician. I actually find it to be refreshing and see it as a good thing to express and feel. Having some doubt is healthy and is what keeps us grounded when it comes to magic and life. The danger of not entertaining some doubts is that you can make assumptions about your magical work that you aren’t verifying. Doubt is what helps us do our due diligence and check against what we’re doing and how its aligning with the experiences we’re having.
I find that where a magician can start making assumptions is when they don’t entertain any doubt. Certainly I have sometimes made assumptions instead of critically questioning what I was experiencing. A good example of this would be when a situation seems to resolve in your favor, with everything lining up the way you would expect it to when you’ve done a magical working…but you haven’t done a magical working.
In the Spiritual Dimension of Music, R.J. Stewart makes the following observation: "The best that can be said for any system is that it is effective in doing what it claims to do and that it leads to its own demolition via the liberation of those who employ it to reach new conclusions, fresh insights, and real inner or outer growth." In God Emperor of Dune, Frank Herbert makes another point, one that all magicians should consider carefully, when he argues that words distort the ideas they represent by framing those ideas into systems. Systems, while providing routine and a sense of social order, can also create ignorance if people don’t examine the beliefs they adopt when they rely on that system to structure their perceptions of the world. My approach to magic is based on the concept of process. I don't really think of it as a system, but I recognize that a process approach can lead to a systematization of a spiritual practice. And the dangers mentioned above are realistic to any system. This is also why I find it useful to encourage experimentation, as such experimentation allows a person to challenge the system s/he is part of, and strike out to create his/her own approach. Experimentation is necessary as not only a creative exercise, but also an exercise in critical thinking. Experimentation, as an exercise in critical thinking, recognizes that no one system has all the answers or liberation for all aspirants. Consequently the creation of a new entire system can be the opportunity presented to explore liberation, but at some point that system will also become dogmatic.
To put it another way, the evolution of magic as a spiritual practice occurs because there are people who are willing to step beyond the systems they originally learned, and move past the religious dogma that sometimes accompanies magical work. Anything a person learns ideally helps the person to eventually move beyond it, and when the person has moved beyond s/he evolves as a person. This isn't to say that s/he won't still have use for what was learned, but rather s/he will not let it define their lives or their practice.
When something defines your life to the point that it dictates who you can be, with no room for growth or liberation, it becomes dogma, confining the person to a narrow existence. That confinement can only be combated by recognizing the limitations, and challenging them through the choice to experiment and do something that goes outside the norms espoused by the system a person is in. This consideration is why I take a descriptive approach to magic, as opposed to a prescriptive approach. A prescriptive approach, while initially providing guidance, ultimately confines people with specific rules and limitations, and most often these rules and limitations are inspired by social norms. A descriptive approach provides guidance, but also encourages a person to go in different directions and to test what s/he is learning. There is no set rule or limitation that insists on a particular stand or way of acting.
That's one reason I've focused on experimentation in magic and life. Instead of sticking to a particular tradition or religion I've found that genuine liberation is better found through the pursuits of actively exploring the wonders of the universe and discovering what you can do with it. Instead of letting the words of a holy book define my life, I've chosen to define my life through my exploration of those wonders. I find that such an approach encourages liberation because any system that is derived is continually questioned in relationship to the experiences a person is having. Such a system is inevitably moved past with the recognition that it served its purpose. Liberation is more important than sticking with the comfort and limitations of a system. It is by testing ourselves and the world we are in that we can find liberation, though it might be fleeting, and thus the work continues!
So my interview with pagan centered podcast just came out. This interview was...well it wasn't an interview. It was a bunch of people grilling me about pop culture magic. I did my best to answer them civilly, though I lost a bit of my temper when several of them were downright insulting. I'm used to people being resistant to the concept of integrating pop culture to magic. I've certainly heard my share of critiques about it, but this interview reminded me of the pagan bunny hunter club...people who would "hunt" pagans who didn't share similar beliefs that they had. In the pagan bunny hunter club, and also in the case of the majority of the people on this podcast, what I'm struck by is the fundamentalism and close-mindedness that informs the attitudes of the people. As you'll probably hear, if you listen to this episode, the majority of the interviewers weren't really familiar with my work and didn't think it was worth their time or effort to become familiar. How that then makes them experts in critiquing said work is beyond me.
I don't expect everyone to agree with how I do magic or think it's the best way to do it. But I really dislike what I consider to be an attempt to tell someone that his or her approach is invalid, because it doesn't fit within the paradigm of someone else. You can tell me it doesn't work for you, but don't try and tell me it won't work for others or that its blasphemous. I actually ended up tailoring some of my responses to fit the perspectives these people were coming from in order to actually communicate how pop culture magic can work. That was an interesting exercise in itself, because I mainly ended up using a psychological model of magic to discuss the concepts with them. That's not necessarily the model I would always use to discuss how magic works, but it was useful in this case and it seemed to at least cause us to arrive toward an uneasy consensus.
Not the best interview I've ever had and quite honestly in some ways very discouraging to see that there is such a prevalent attitude of fundamentalism, though not too surprising either. It's fair to say that in some ways this interview is representative of some of the disillusionment I've felt in regards to the pagan/occult communities.
I've had some really intriguing discussions lately about the role of critical thinking in magic, which consequently has also lead to discussing the concept of success and showing it, intuition and it's role in magic, and of course magic itself. Now I'm of the stance that critical thinking is an important tool in magic. This comes from my days in academia, wherein critical thinking was applied laboriously to every and all things. But from those same days, I've also seen how easily critical thinking can get abused and become something which dulls the mind and creativity of the inquirer. I saw this happen to fellow grad students and for a while had it happen to me before I decided I valued my creativity and decided to depart academia for more creative ventures. So on one hand I think critical thinking is good and on the other hand, I know all too well what happens when critical thinking becomes dogma. In fact, when it becomes dogma, it's no longer really critical thinking, so much as it is the guise of being critical thinking, with a whole of bitterness thrown in, because there's no creativity left to challenge the belief that one has to analyze everything into bits and pieces.
Critical thinking, in magic, is asking questions, of yourself, of what you're doing, and how this process is supposed to change your life. Critical thinking really works when you also add in a component of success. And what is success? Depends on the person, I suppose. For me, success is based on living a life of fulfillment and service. My success is defined by the fulfillment I obtain from it, but also the service I offer to others in the act of living. And critical thinking applies to this when I can ask myself the hard questions as to how magic enables me to achieve this feeling of success in my own life and what is the benefit of doing magic, and many other questions.
Intuition involves creativity, and learning to let go of rationality to sometimes listen to emotion, and a variety of other ways of knowing that aren't encompassed in critical thinking. Intuition is not just a kinesthetic awareness of the self, but also an awareness that extends into how we interact with the environment around us. Intuition balances critical thinking by providing us a different medium of experience. In fact, intuition is based on experience...so while critical thinking provides an intelelctual approach to magic, intuition gives us the experience to make the intellect come alive with wonder.